The Prime Minister & His Poll Campaign
Prime Minister Narendra Modi who sired the Clean India Campaign of 2014 has left the 2017 Gujarat poll narrative patently polluted.
Irrespective of what the outcome may be, the Prime Minister led from the front in sullying election campaigning, plumbing dismaying depths in a desperate bid to beat down a two decade old anti-incumbency and a youthful combination welded by Congress president Rahul Gandhi that was giving the BJP nightmares.
The BJP had only one ace, Modi and he, in turn, always has an ace up his sleeve, went the common refrain. Predictable in his unpredictability, the Prime Minister was quick to pull off the velvet gloves and bring out the ugly clawed hand as the race for Gujarat moved past the roundabouts into the straights for the final dash. The ace was nothing but harking back to hindutva (mandir-masjid) and the age old ploy of communal polarization as well as injustice caused to Gujarat by criticizing Modi.
Very early in the campaigning Modi discarded the development plank to unfold a hindi potboiler like canvass that had emotion, drama, aggression and even a villain, Pakistan. With 20 years of ruling Gujarat and with himself in the saddle at the Centre as well, Modi could hardly talk about injustice to the state at his own hands and so chose to rewind history to the injustice to gujarati Sardar Patel at the hands of Jawaharlal Nehru and there from to the mystery surrounding the death of Lalbahadur Shastri and the emergence of the dynasty which has always harboured grudges against Gujarat.
Desperate to salvage Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi even hurled his own persona into the poll battle, latching onto stray remarks and invoking them as a personal slight in a bid to invoke gujarati pride for electoral gains. Taking liberties with facts, the lowly person (neech) remark was turned into a lowly caste(neech jati) by Modi and soon an innocuous dinner meeting with a former Pakistani foreign minister acquired conspiratorial dimensions with former prime minister Manmohan Singh, a former vice-president, Hamid Ansari and a former indian army chief Deepak Kapoor besides some senior indian journalists all becoming parties-in-person to defeating the BJP and installing Ahmed Patel as chief minister of Gujarat ! . It took an angry rebuttal from a normally soft spoken former prime minister Manmohan Singh who charged Modi with an insatiable desire to tarnish every constitutional office, that made him finally back off.
This is not the first time that communalization or personal criticism has been put to poll use by Modi. In 2002, post the Godhra train carnage and statewide communal riots, he had used the “miyan musharaf’ parable to cause communal cleavage and win the elections. In 2007,it was the ‘maut ka saudagar’ comment so used while in 2012 it was centre’s injustice to Gujarat. This time,a combination of all three have been deployed to stave off the Congress challenge.
The 2017 elections is notable for two aspects. The complete absence from campaigning of BJP patriarch L.K.Advani who is now headed for hermitage and Rahul Gandhi finally emerging from the shadows of outgoing president Sonia Gandhi to take on Modi full scale. He was declared the president of the party even as he was wading through the dust and grime of a grueling election campaign against a formidable opponent who was using every trick of the electioneering craft to put him on the mat. A do or die, battle for Modi, he had much earlier shifted the campaign narrative from development to the ‘chaiwala’ syndrome and there from to hindutva and finally to Pakistan interference before a Rahul jibe brought him back to Gujarat issues.
In fact an army of Modimen, almost the bulk of his cabinet, chief ministers of BJP ruled states, sister organizations of the Sangh parivar and it’s cadres have been assiduously at work stoking fears of muslim comeuppance if the Congress returned to power.
The Gujarat election also marks the coming of age of Rahul Gandhi and his team. Leading from the front with understated efficiency and easy affability, Rahul came across as a person who stuck to his narrative of taking on Modi and his government and stoutly refused to encourage use of loose language against his opponent. If Modi used all manner of mocking titles to describe Rahul, the latter always referred to him as ‘Modiji’ or ‘pradhan-mantriji’.”The BJP may talk of Congress-free India, but we will never talk of a BJP-free country.They have their way and we have ours.The people have a right to choice in a democracy”,Rahul said in one of his campaign speeches in Gujarat to considerable appreciation.
Another notable difference was that while Modi would normally set the tone and tenor of electioneering in every poll after he came to power in 2001, with the Congress lamely following behind, this time it was the other way round. Before the polls were announced and the model code of conduct came into effect, every Rahul visit was preceded by the state government announcing a slew of incentives. Even the Centre which had adroitly refused to listen to the lament of Surat businesses on GST caved in after Gandhi started gaining mileage in the South Gujarat city famous for the diamond cutting and polishing as well as textile industry.
There have been many factors which have baffled the BJP this election. For one Rahul Gandhi refused to be drawn into issues concerning minorities and hindutva that could cede mileage to Modi. Gandhi’s temple hopping galled his rivals no-end and they sought to turn non-issues into issues like the non-hindu tag on him at Somnath temple. That the Prime Minister of India was twisting facts to score poll time brownie points, based on half-baked information as was noticed in his move to drag down Kapil Sibal arguing in the Babri-ram janmabhoomi case in the apex court, in no way added to his stature. Proof that the battle had been truly joined came when the BJP requisitioned the services of maulvis from far off UP and Maharashtra to campaign in minority pockets in the state.
The triad of Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakore working to the advantage of the Congress also had the BJP flustered. The determined efforts to tarnish the reputation of Patel and Mevani through alleged sex CDs and ‘linkages’ to terror elements are adequate pointers. The crowds that Hardik kept drawing with his single line message to uproot the BJP lock, stock and barrel remained a matter of concern for the BJP.
The last word on the irony of the Prime Minister’s election campaign in Gujarat came from a top of the front page election advertisement published December 12,by the BJP in a leading Gujarati paper .The first of it’s kind advertisement ,is a collage of statements against Modi allegedly made by all manner of Congress leaders over the years including the ‘maut ka saudagar’remark by Mrs Sonia Gandhi and the ‘lowly person’(neech vyakti)remark by Mani Shankar Aiyer.Apart from the fact, that the advertisement itself provides proof that Aiyer did not call Modi a person of ‘low caste’ as attributed to him by the prime Minister,the ad.asks people to avenge the insult to Gujarat.
However the same BJP has no problems with appointing a prominent Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti(PAAS) leader Varun Patel,who had called the Prime Minister a petty pickpocket as their Gujarat party spokesperson after he switched sides.
Some double standard this!